Heritage, Volume 5, Number 1, Spring 1987 Page: 25
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a wealth of photographic and written
documentation, and more comes to light
every day. However, master planning and
research did not absorb all our attention
in 1986. To kick off the Capitol restoration
effort, and to join in the Sesquicentennial
festivities, we focused on a
few major, visible restoration projects,
most notably the Goddess of Liberty
statue, the Governor's Public Reception
Room, and the House Chamber area.
The Goddess (restored and replicated by
the St. Louis-based conservation firm,
Washington University Technology Associates)
received a great deal of media attention.
The other major projects have
proceeded more quietly, but by no means
The Governor's Public Reception
Room, the "Living Room of Texas," is
perhaps the most documented and photographed
room in the Capitol. From the
very beginning, special significance has
been attached to it. Well into the 1930s
the room apparently remained virtually
intact, save for some reupholstering of
the furnishings. Pieces of furniture took
on legendary importance-the "Davy
Crockett" table, the "perfect" mirror
from Paris, the McKinley sofa (present
location unknown), and the unusual love
seat. For the most part, these references
appear to be more fiction than fact. The
table and mirror are clearly a matched
set, probably made to order for the room
in the Midwest. The detailing on both
also matches the carving on an original
pair of pedestals still in the room.
Nothing in the archival records ties the
table to Crockett, except for the fact that
Tennessee marble was used on its surface.
The rumor that the mirror came from
Paris probably arose from the original
specification's reference to it as "French
plate," merely a term of identification,
A 1931 article in the Dallas Morning
News entitled "Texas' Parlor of Kings"
goes on at great length in rapturous tones
about the magnificence and splendor of
the room, noting its nearly original decor:
"The appearance of the room is fascinating
and whimsical, and gives the visitors
the feeling of intense historical discovery."
We seem to be following historical
precedent, restoring the room in honor of
the Sesquicentennial. It was also the
focus of attention during 1936, when it
was, according to the Austin Statesman,
"restored to its early glory." However, by
the 1950s the room had lost much of its
late nineteenth century atmosphere and
charm. The richly patterned floral carpet
and draperies had been replaced with a
simpler style of decoration. The furniture
began to disappear from the room, or it
was slipcovered, wood frames and all.
When plans for restoring the room began
late in 1985, except for a few pieces
of furniture, none of the original decoration
remained. After extensive research,
the painstaking process of returning the
room to its late-Victorian setting began.
The work is scheduled for completion in
Late nineteenth century photographs
provided evidence about the carpet, draperies,
and furnishings original to the
room. The Crockett table and the mirror,
as well as two pedestals, had survived. We
rejoiced when late last year the Capitol
historian discovered the room's original
tete-a-tete (an S-curved bench for two
people, commonly referred to as a love
seat). It was in the Governor's Mansion
storage collection, which suggests that it
was at some point moved from the Reception
Room into the mansion. The whereabouts
of the remaining original furniture
is still under investigation. To complete
the furnishing of the room, Renaissance
Revival- and Eastlake-period antiques
have been selected, which both are appropriate
to the history of the room and
will work with the functional needs of the
space. All furniture will be restored and
upholstered with fabrics commonly used
during the 1880s and 1890s.
The most striking change in the room's
present appearance will be the addition of
a historically accurate carpet. With the
assistance of Victorian expert Samuel
Dornsife, we located a late 1880s point
paper (loom design) for a floral carpet
which closely resembles the pattern visible
in the 1890s photographs. After
months of refinement, an eighteen-color
Wilton carpet is now being loomed. It
will be complemented by flowing drapes
styled, lined, and trimmed with a tassel
fringe to closely match the originals.
(With any luck at all, one custom associated
with the drapes will not be repeated:
a 1931 Dallas Morning News article stated
that "the tassels from the costly Persian
draperies have been the chief objects of
acquisition [by souvenir hunters] for over
Our staff at the Office of the Architect
of the Capitol was very excited by a late
discovery concerning the drapes. In the
midst of our design work, a 1930s photo
A 1905 photograph of Lyndon Johnson's father,
Sam Johnson, Jr., seated at his desk in the
chamber. It is quite rare to find such a close-up
view of historical carpeting. This photograph
allowed for a detailed study of the design and
scale of the 1905 carpet.
graph came to light which suggested that
elaborately carved curtain rods were used
in the original drapery design. We were
able to reach this conclusion because the
rods are identical to an original largescale
example which still exists in the Supreme
Courtroom. The drapery restoration
now includes the replication of these
carved and ornamented rods.
Thanks to the early photographs, we
also were able to locate the first permanent
chandelier for the room. It was still
in the Capitol, hanging outside the entrance
to the House Chamber. An 1898
account in the Austin Daily Tribune noted
the chandelier's placement in the Reception
A new chandelier has been attached to the
wires, and when the light is turned on the
room presents a dazzling aspect. The work is of
a high order, and the improvement is very
striking in its excellence.
Restored and rewired to accommodate
a higher-wattage bulb, the chandelier will
once again brighten the room. It will be
complemented by period table lamps
placed along the walls.
Of particular interest to us were the
original paint colors used in the room.
Analysis revealed, rather surprisingly for
such a grand, late nineteenth century
space, a fairly simple beige or cream color
scheme, with only touches of gilding here
and there. More typical would have been
a polychromed and highly gilded treatment.
No correspondence has been un25
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 5, Number 1, Spring 1987, periodical, Spring 1987; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45438/m1/25/: accessed April 28, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.